STEM Programs’ Cultures Need to Change, Study Finds

Research companies eager to hire more female and minority scientists to their mix may want to consider these latest findings of the Bayer Facts of Science Education XV survey.

In this, the 15th such survey by Bayer Corp., 413 science, technology, engingeering and mathematics department chairs were polled from the United States’ leading research universities and those that produce the most African-American, Hispanic and American Indian graduates.

Researchers found that, although American women entering college are the best-prepared academically to successfully graduate with STEM degrees, women and underrepresented minorities still lag way behind Caucasian and Asian males in actually securing those degrees and going on to work in those fields.

The survey asked respondents to shed light on the educational environments in which this shift occurs and found a noticeable lack of encouragement for females and minorities to pursue these studies by departments still headed up by mostly male (87 percent) and Caucasian (88 percent) chairs.

“One of the greatest challenges most universities face is changing the cuture of teaching and learning in STEM courses,” says Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who chaired the National Academies committee that produced the 2010 report, Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America’s Science & Technology Talent at the Crossroads.

“Too often,” he says, “we in higher education believe high quality is related to how many students are weeded out of STEM courses. Instead, the emphasis should be on rigorous course work coupled with support, together leading to larger numbers of students succeeding academically.”

Greg Babe, Bayer’s president and CEO, says this latest research “adds an important, unheard voice to the national discussion about how we as a country need to broaden student participation in STEM to include more women and minorities.”

Although the release about the study doesn’t detail the part corporate America should play, I would venture to guess if more universities heard from more employers dissatisfied with the numbers of women and minorities graduating from these programs and coming to them as qualified job candidates, the impetus to change that culture might be that much greater.